Back in the ’90s, Shiny Entertainment was known for its hilarious and slick action games like Earthworm Jim and Wild 9. It placed as much emphasis on trying to make the player laugh as it did on engrossing them in the game, and in 1997 it released MDK, a hit action game that was quite unique for its time.
In MDK, players assume the role of Kurt, an assistant of the eccentric Dr Fluke Hawkins. During a science experiment on a space station, the Doctor noticed that a resource-devouring alien race had made its way to earth, and was harvesting all of our resources with huge, city-sized harvesters. He kits out a reluctant Kurt with a special combat suit and air drops him into each of these harvesters to take them out one at a time.
At the start of each mission, players control Kurt in increasingly difficult “halo jumps”, if you will, where he has to dodge missiles and lasers as he freefalls from beyond Earth’s atmosphere to his mission start point. The aim is to defeat the commander of each of these gigantic harvesters, which sounds simple enough, but it’s really quite an ordeal. Each harvester is structured completely differently to the last. Some have vast, open, military style trenches while others contain weird architecture or even alien theme parks. All of them are crawling with enemies and puzzles however, and these are designed to tax both your brain and your action game skills to the limit. One of my personal favourite bits is a mini-boss encounter, where you fight an alien in a suit similar to yours in a gigantic room full of floating, black, mirror-like platforms, while a huge pendulum swings back and forth in an effort to knock you off. The game is full of interesting and memorable ideas like this right until the end, and just when you’re starting to think you’ve seen it all, something new will pop up.
Luckily, Kurt has a number of tools at his disposal to ease the pain of this endeavour. His arm-mounted machine gun works pretty much like any other, and allows him to strafe around enemies while peppering them with a constant stream of rapid fire. It’s a force to be reckoned with, even though it’s the only basic weapon Kurt will have throughout the entire game. He also has a “sniper helmet”, which allows him to make long-range headshots and launch an assortment of different grenades. It also functions as a puzzle-solving tool. Kurt also has access to a wide variety of different items and powerups, such as the world’s smallest nuke and, my personal favourite, the world’s most interesting bomb – a bomb so enthralling enemies can’t look away, even when it’s about to explode.
This trademark sense of humour, coupled with stunning visuals (for its time) all combined to make MDK an instant and unique classic in a time when FPS games were dominating the market.